When Does a Coach Become a Bully?


Some coaches, like Bobby Knight, have made quite a name for themselves because of their overly aggressive coaching style (to put it mildly). Everyone has their own kind of “style” when it comes to coaching youth sports, and some coaches prefer the drill-sergeant approach.  Shows like “Friday Night Tykes” are showcasing the most extreme version of this kind of coaching, and that has many parents and sports administrators left wondering—at what point does a “gruff” or “aggressive” coach turn into a bully? Can a coach yell and swear and scream from the sidelines and still have a team that respects them? It’s hard to point out exactly where the line in the sand is because each coach and each player is going to respond differently.

We recently came across a story about the Boston University’s Women’s Basketball coach When Does a Coach Become a Bully?whose style of coaching led four of her players to quit the team and give up their $60,000 a year athletic scholarship. Two players said Greenberg’s emotional abuse ruined their love of the sport and one other sought professional help for her mental health. One basketball player said she felt so emotionally damaged by her coach she considered suicide. Apparently this is not the first time Coach Greenberg has been reported for bullying her players;

Greenberg faced similar complaints seven years ago, when most of her players reported to BU’s athletic director that Greenberg routinely engaged in unwarranted and damaging personal attacks against them.

Plenty of parents and athletes have had to deal with coaches they just didn’t like. Maybe they were too aggressive (or not aggressive enough). Maybe they felt the coach wasn’t running practice well, or was playing favorites with the players. Or maybe personalities just didn’t mesh well. But have you or your child ever dealt with a coach that really was nothing more than a bully? A coach that was so terrible that you’d be willing to walk away from a $60k athletic scholarship?

According to the NCAA, in 2011 438,933 girls were playing basketball and 125,409 of those girls are in their senior year of high school. However, only 3.5% (about 3 in 100) of high school female basketball players will go on to play basketball in college. Apparently Coach Greenberg’s style of coaching was enough to push not one, but four players, off her team in one season. Boston University is a Division 1 NCAA school, so these girls are some of the best players around. They are most certainly used to long practices, year-round training, and playing in highly competitive leagues. And it’s probably safe to assume somewhere along the line those four women had a coach they didn’t like, but their love of the sport was far stronger than any issues they may have had with a coach. So what made Coach Greenberg so bad that these women choose to give up basketball rather than “deal”?

Yes, some coaches are more gruff and aggressive than others but those coaches can still treat their team with respect and coach with integrity. Bu every now and then we hear stories about coaches like this, that take it way too far and end up bullying and mentally abusing their players. But how do you know as a parent or athlete when a coach has gone too far? Is it really possible to quantify how much is too much?